LOS ANGELES -- When Toyota releases its redesigned Prius hybrid this fall, the icon of green driving will encounter a much different climate than any of the three generations before it did.
The Prius was once one of the few choices -- and the most obvious one -- for drivers looking for both fuel economy and an "I'm green" billboard. But today's car lots are littered with hybrids in every shape and size, not to mention a growing field of diesels, electric cars and fuel-sipping nonhybrids.
What's more, none of these vehicles is selling very well in a marketplace where low gasoline prices are stoking consumers' appetite for trucks and cross-overs.
So has Toyota's good luck with the Prius finally run out?
Although the timing isn't ideal, dealers, analysts and Toyota itself are all bullish on the prospects for the next-gen Prius, which goes on sale at the end of this year as a 2016 model. They credit the strength of the Prius brand, its promising looks and what's shaping up as a solid backup plan.
The current-generation Prius has been around since 2009 and has sold 1,120,422 units in the U.S. Over that span, increased competition has slashed its share of the hybrid market from 58 percent in November 2011 to 31 percent last month, according to Edmunds.com.
Yet it leads the green-car world in terms of name recognition and has some of the most faithful owners in the industry, according to analysts and data from Toyota and Edmunds.
It also has transcended the green niche, becoming one of the most popular vehicles in the nation's largest market, California. It was the No. 1-selling nameplate in the state in 2012 and 2013, and it scored near the top in other years.
The Prius also enjoys a price point only a bit higher than that of its nonhybrid peers, making its value proposition a much easier sell than other hybrids when gasoline prices are low.